U[S]A Dream

They say “art copies life”, but being an artist I can long argue that. However, if one tries to oversee the general picture, one is likely to observe a certain pattern. I narrowed my examples down to the two counties (USA and Ukraine), due to residential status, and hence the highest awareness of these two nations.

The world famous “happy endings” are definitely the US “licensed” feature. It all comes down to the morals in the end of the story, that proves that it was all forth it: the hardships, one survives, and all the battles, that a character wins. To sum up, it’s all about the win for Americans. American candidate running for a president, Donald Trump constantly uses the ‘win’ slogans in the motivational speeches. “We will have so much winning, if I get elected, that you may get bored with the winning,” Trump said. That really seems to be working. It has long become the ultimate purpose. A gymnastics commentator quoted on the men AA individual competition final: “If you ain’t first you’re last” (Scene where Reese Bobby inspires Ricky). In 2016 Olympics in Rio one will find multiple examples to prove this point. Michael Phelps comes back with a baggage of 18 Olympic gold medals and a series of controversies (boredom chased by dui etc.), only to win four more gold medals. Aly Raisman, who scored 59.566, in the individual all-around, tying with Aliya Mustafina of Russia, but lost the bronze in a tie-breaker and placed fourth, comes back four year later to Rio and wins silver over Russian gymnast Mustafina. Bernard Lagat, a 41-year old runner qualified to represent USA at the Olympics for the fifth time in his life. Lagat finished in 13 minutes, 35.30 seconds while Hassan Mead (13.35.70) (second in qualification 5k race).

For the viewers it is like a smell of that apple pie, your grandma used to make, when you were 6. It is familiar and so desirable. The smell of win. But more importantly the win over the best. Michael Phelps was so cheered for, not only for the 18 previously won medals, but because he won over the Chad Le Clos, South African athlete, who had won the gold in London 2012. and later in 2015 had choice words about Phelps. “Michael Phelps has been talking about how slow the butterfly events have been recently,” he said. “I just did a time he hasn’t done in four years. So he can keep quiet now.” And also because he qualified for the next event finals, twenty minutes after receiving that 22nd gold medal on the Olympic podium in Rio on Aug 11. It’s all that drama and nerves that go along with the win, and make you still talk about it years later, just like that best in the world pie.

On the other hand is the picturesque story of Ukraine. The country that is at a constant war for sovereignty, and hence the self-identification, due to its location on the border between the East and the West. Ukrainian National team is ranked top 20 by the number of participating athletes in Rio Olympics 2016. This year is the fourth Olympics for the independent from Moscow Ukraine. As a result of newly formed independent economy, sports (and arts) were left on the “left-over” budget. The athletes are mostly volunteering their health and time, based on pure dedication to the sports. Based on the example revealed by the Ukrainian men gymnastics team, there are no physical therapists, no modern post USSR training equipment, no rehabilitation funds; simple necessities like tapes and hand gloves are donated or bought by sportsmen out of the pockets. And moreover, if the team doesn’t deliver the medals, the funding cuts even lower. That is exactly what happened after London 2012 Olympics, when the Japanese team filed an appeal, believing that Uchimura should have been given more points for his dismount, which although botched in execution, was landed without an actual fall. After a video review by the judges, Uchimura’s score was increased by 0.7 points to 14.166, bringing Japan back to second place for a silver medal, and knocking Great Britain down to third place for a bronze and Ukraine to fourth place, out of the medal standings. Two of the best Ukrainian gymnasts left the team to go abroad, because of the lack of funding. No medals – no cash. So much for the dramatic story build-up.

So when Martha Karolyi (the women’s gymnastics team USA coordinator) comments on her decision at the qualifications finals: “They need to prove themselves. They need to show that they’re able to handle the stress and their routines are very consistent.” – the Ukrainian national team slogan is more likely to be “neck or nothing”. Ukraine doesn’t have a privilege of consistency, but one can be sure it will be the team that throws it all on the table. When you watch Oleg Verniaiev (Ukrainian gymnast) compete in the individual AA face-to-face (in fact leading at times) with the six time world champion, Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura, be sure there is some history being written. And even when Oleg fails to score enough for the gold, and lets Kohei seal the championship by the lead of 0.9, it is a miracle of dedication that gets your heart bumping. When Serena Williams’ reign as Olympic women’s singles tennis champion comes to a shuddering halt after a shock defeat by Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, there is no place for consistency. It is rather the smell of sweat, produced by adrenaline, when you risked it all at this second. If not now, when?

The little hop during Oleg Verniaiev’s landing at the AA final event separated the gold medal from “what if”. But maybe it is a chance of “what if?”, the adrenaline of allowing yourself this dream of the gold, is what drives the Ukrainians alongside with the American dreamers, regardless of the obstacles surrounding them. It is inspiring to hear Aly Raisman speak of how all the years spent in gym; all the parties, football games and simple teenage joys missed for the cause of sports, are all worth it, when you stand on that pedestal, receiving the medal, and that your life changes completely after that. This is why everyone does it, and this is how it should be.

But there are competitors from team Refugee, who trained for the Olympics without the sneakers, or had to push the boat for three hours just to survive, like Yusra Mardini, 18, or Ukrainian gymnast Verniaiev, who secured the funding for the whole team by winning that medal, that gets a viewer out of the couch and pushes to accomplish more.

These Places Are The Reason I Wake Up (part II)

Continuing the list (These Places Are The Reason I Wake Up (part I)), that so much aspires me make every new step… I just wanted to add that right after finishing the yesterday’s post on Iceland, I read an article on Werner Herzog’s film (that he shot last year in Iceland) Into The Inferno. It tells a story of a volcano eruption, braided into the local mythology. Its presence in Cannes and a notoriety of Herzog to be an exquisite romantic, makes The Inferno another must see.

Thinking back to the point I stopped the list makes all the dreams and pictures arise again. It is, as usual so close, yet so far. Just as far as a the airport. The next one is very special to me:

bison

Montana, USA

I remember I was 14. I was studying in the art school for teens in Kyiv, dreaming of establishing a sanctuary for wolves and becoming a movie director. Most of my friends lived in the neighborhood within walking distance. So I walked. I came to see my friend Ksusha. She was at home in her prolonged bedroom, at the far right corner of the apartment, her family lived at. A lot of defining moments of my life somehow happened there. She was reading a book, that I unfortunately can not remember. We decided to play a game, that was quite common for kids. You ask a question, open a book randomly, read a random passage. This was supposed to be an answer to your question. Usually, one would rather make up the connection between the actually words and the question, just keep it fun. Making text fit the question is quite easy. These time it was different enough to give me shivers. I remember asking a very cheesy question: “Where will I find happiness?”. The lines of the book said straight and clear: go buy the tickets, get on the plane and fly to Montana, USA. I wish I could quote. It was the end of the chapter. My friend and I got silent. No words needed.

Terry Badlands in Montana

I haven’t been to Montana yet. It almost feels like a reserve. In case, it got too unbearable – I would still have a dream to pursue and a place I was promised to find happiness.

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Beautiful Downtown Neihart, MontanaMission_Mountains_National_Bison_Range_Montana

Montana is on the far north of the US. It shares a great national reserve with Wyoming and   Idaho. Yellowstone National Park is a nearly 3,500 sq. mile wilderness recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot. Montana is also a state, that is famous for its snowboarding. But mostly, it is a secluded place where vast territories make the size a very diluted extension. The Summer is short and the winter is longer, than in most parts of the US. The film Revenant was partly shot there. The movie production team noted, though, the unusually high temperatures and lack of snow that year. Hopefully Montana is still there when I need it. And hopefully that happiness is not covered in snow.

Another place to definitely be at is:

Norway

Oslo – the city of Edvard Munch, who painted the pre XX century icon Scream. Oslo is the capital of Norway, one of the most expensive and happiest countries in the world. If you don’t earn locally, a $20 pint of beer might be a bit too feisty. I can still remember the camping zones of Scandinavian football fans in Kyiv, Ukraine during UEFA Euro 2012. Hypnotized by the $1-2 for a half litter bottled beers, Swedish were countless times noticed by the grocery stores, dragging them by blocks. That followed the articles, that Swedish consumed all of the beer researves at the fan zones.

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Norway is also a very environmental friendly country. It reported to be moving towards banning the gas-burning cars by 2025. Great hiking. Plenty time to commit to it even for a full-time worker. Looks like a dream, on paper, at least to me.

Norway reached a planned 50 000 non-gas cars by 2015
Norway reached a planned 50 000 non-gas cars by 2015
Bergen_Sandviken,_Norway_at_night
Bergen Sandviken, Norway

norway-geirangerNorthern Lights near Tromsø, Norway

So far I only had a chance to visit Finland. It was a rather harsh experience. Granted I was pretty young kid. I remember a hotel that was promised to be right outside of Helsinki. Around an hour drive along the forest, in reality. I remember arriving on Sun just to realize, that nothing is open in Finland on Sundays, including the hotel reception. We found the keys in the mail box, along with a notion that we were the only visitors so far. After a few hours of struggle to find some signs of civilization, lost-in-translation issues, and false hopes to walk to a nearby town center, we managed to call a taxi. It took us to the only, still open bar. They obviously had no food, but alcohol and tea with sugar. A small gas station shop, with its heavenly cookies, was a save-of-the-day. As our further pre-travel research skill developed over time, this trip to Finland, I will never forget. There was the most gorgeous lake right in front of the hotel, surrounded with trees, bigger, than I could grasp. And that also was Finland.

Trollstigen Mountain Road in Norway
As I am watching today’s stage of Tour de France, the look at this photo makes me want to cycle there just too bad.

Lysebotn, Norway

There is much of the useful information for the future travelers, that made me very curious.

Norway landscapenorway

Why you should start your bucket list two years ago

It was a 5am walk along the same single path through the park in Arizona. It was a bit dirty, as it rained last night. The first rain for the past four months. People worshiped the sound of thunder. Humidity brought back smells to the air. The bloody red colored sun started to make its way through the protective clouds. It turns out one has to move to a desert to start to love rain. It took me two years. That was when my friend and I started the battle for that starved kid’s life inside of us. The one that once had no excuses and accepted no obstacles on the way to the wish.

The mission, as simple, as getting together at the music festival appeared somehow beyond accomplishable. For two years there was something in the way. I can remember each dialogue that excused it. The voices that were really trying to convince themselves, had adapted to accept the current life flow as the only option. There was constant lack of: money, time, reason, visa, etc.

February 2016 I received a short message: “Let’s go?”, with a headliners list of the Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Spain. The answer was just as short: “Let’s go.” Next week we bought the tickets. Emotions were overflowing us. We actually had a hard proof of the upcoming trip. It was hard to believe, the whole hing was about to go down, because of the simplicity we accomplished it with. To an extend, the situation reminded  me of the Berlin Wall. When it was physically broken, yet its ghost was still curved in the people’s subconsciousness.

It took us over a month to get used to the idea we would meet at the music festival that was across the ocean.

In Pursuit of Spanish Visa
In Pursuit of Spanish Visa

Then we bought the plane tickets. We only needed a visa now. The vast majority of the world countries need to officially grant you, a Ukrainian citizen a permit (visa), in order for you to enter their territory. It includes, but is not limited to: a detailed trip itinerary; information on the funds that cover your travel costs, and your stay at the country during the planned visit; description of the intentions and reasons for your travel; as well as a descriptive bio, working/marital status and a medical insurance. I found out that the nearest Spanish Consulates to Arizona were on Los Angeles and San Francisco. I couldn’t get hold of the first suggested location and so I booked a visa appointment with the Consulate General of Spain in SF.

Shortly I was on the flight to the most expensive city in the US, with only five hours to spare, in order to avoid the hotel costs, and be back to Arizona before night. The next words sounded like an echo in my dreams. According to the new agreements, Arizona is not under the SF Consulate jurisdiction anymore. I had to contact the Los Angeles office. And yes they have two websites, one of which has the outdated information. Yes, they have a tendency to not receive or return the calls. “Try to email them a lot.” – they said.

 

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Two month later my friend and I were both sitting on the sidewalk at 5am in Barcelona, Spain. We were trying to catch a taxi, but not really.. We were drunk with life, exhausted from all the dancing and high on oxygen in our blood. It was chilly and we had shivers from the sea breeze, that would sneak under our jeans jackets. The happy sound of the heartbeat resonated with the music and the feeling of life. It was so pure and real as if there was nothing else in the world. And no matter how many pros you can find – in the end of the day, it is always worth it!

WE CREATED OUR FIRST ‘BUCKET LIST’, when we came back home. Proudly, one dream was already accomplished, with a lot less effort than we were trying to label it with. The rest of the list doesn’t really fit in our current life stream. Most of it doesn’t pass the logical reasoning test. It is not meant for that magic and longed for post-retirement period of life, when one spare time and cash, hopefully. It is meant to keep us alive and conscious of who we really are. It is meant to teach us, what is worth our time. It is as simple as that: one needs a desert to worship rain; and one needs London to strive for a clear sky. And we all need air to keep us hight.

High